Today on the show I spoke to Rebecca, a former Jehovah’s Witness, who described growing up in “The Truth”. She told me how life for members consists of constant judgment and restriction, with activities, even for young people, restricted to meetings, Bible study, and preaching door to door.
Rebecca was questioned by two middle aged men, without her parents present, at the age of 14 for the serious offence of kissing a boy from outside the religion. The shame this brought on her family forced them to move to a different town, where, she says, it followed her so that she jumped every time the phone rang in case she was accused of another sin. She was forced to leave school young, marry someone within the faith and never had the opportunity to play sports, celebrate a birthday or Christmas, or get an education.
Rebecca finally got the courage to leave both her abusive marriage and the religion in recent years and spoke to me about how she wants to encourage others to leave.
You can listen back to the interview here.
We had quite a bit of response to this and the description of Rebecca’s story on social media.
One woman said:
“I could have written this myself… the amount of young adults in cork that I would know that have no contact because of this religion and they are the most hypocritical people you will ever meet – it’s do what I say not what I do. They spend millions that is well documented in the states protecting the high ups in the religion that are pedophiles and hiding others by moving them just like the Catholic Church. Some stories I could tell people wouldn’t believe…”
“that girl is 100% correct in what she says, unfortunately… myself and my family left along time ago as it was too hard to have a normal functioning life or relationships with anyone outside of the organisation… Poor girl. She’s very brave – I don’t speak about it at all. How you can disown a member of your family as they may have different beliefs to you I’ll never understand but that’s common place in the ‘truth’ (what it’s commonly referred to) Just tell her she’s not on her own and everything will work out.”
All three women wanted to remain anonymous for fear of what would happen to them or to their family or friends who remain in the religion.
I recently read a book about Scientology written by a survivor, Jenna Miscavige Hill, and many of the things Rebecca described were familiar from this book. The coercion, pressure on people to dedicate every moment to the cause, and utter lack of freedom in every single element of life seems rather similar in both cases.
Rebecca’s story also reminded me of Oranges are not the Only Fruit by English author Jeanette Winterson.
Maybe it’s naive, but it’s hard to believe this kind of coercion takes place in plain sight. People living under this stress are beside us at work (well – Rebecca explains pretty well how Jehovah’s Witnesses are encouraged not to develop careers, so maybe not), at school and elsewhere.
It’s a kind of weird platitude to say you never know what anybody else is going through… but you really, really don’t.